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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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REGIONAL TRANSIT AUTHORITY (RTA). In 1982 the newly formed RTA hired Tim Garling as the director. There was some confusion. The board of supervisors from Dubuque, Jackson and Delaware counties chose him, but the East Central Intergovernmental Association which was in charge of hiring misunderstood that he would not be a public employee but instead a direct employee of the RTA, a private corporation. Designed to reduce duplication of transportation services in the three counties, especially in the area of transportation for the handicapped and elderly, the RTA was a private corporation so that it could receive state and federal money. (1)

Garling resigned as the director in September, 1983. As a result, the three RTA buses and one van and paid drivers were phased out of service and the ECIA awarded the $77,000 contract for transporting elderly people in the three counties to PROJCT CONCERN. The ECIA saved the $20,000 RTA director's salary and $7,800 allocated for sharing offices with RTA in the NESLER CENTRE. Project Concern officials said they would use the experience their drivers had transporting the elderly prior to the formation of the RTA in 1982. Volunteer drivers would be reimbursed 24 cents per mile and their insurance would be covered by a Project Concern policy. (2)

The Dubuque board of education in 1984 rejected a Iowa Department of Transportation consultant's recommendation that Keyline bus 321 STEPHEN HEMPSTEAD HIGH SCHOOL and WASHINGTON JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL students because board members did not believe it would save the district money. District officials claimed it would leave bus drivers with down time in their schedules that the district would be obligated to pay. The district did provide Keyline route and schedule information to high school students who had been made ineligible for bus transportation due to redistricting. It also contracted with the RTA to carry special education students. The contact was not renewed because the RTA did not have the equipment to carry some wheelchairs. The district could take the students on their regular routes. DOT officials found that Dubuque was the only site where coordination was not taking place. (3)

The RTA is a nonprofit organization that in 2011 managed a fleet of thirty-five light duty buses, accessible mini-vans, standard vans, and school buses and provided 150,000 annual passenger trips serving more than 2,500 individuals in Delaware, Dubuque and Jackson counties. Vehicles were equipped to accommodate children, senior and those with disabilities. Funded by tax dollars and rides fares, the service was available to the general public.

In 1983 Greyhound Lines officials, which operated Greyhound and Trailways buses, announced an expansion of its "Rural Connection," program to Iowa. Greyhound contacted the RTA of Dubuque, Jackson, and Delaware counties about beginning a connection between the smaller towns and the union bus station in Dubuque. Greyhound had ended much of its service to smaller communities because the service lost money. "Rural Connection" would incorporate RTA vehicles into routes coordinated to arrive at the bus station in Dubuque before departures. Greyhound would pay RTA between fifty cents and $6 per passenger depending how far the passenger graveled on the Greyhound bus. The program was being assisted by a $100,000 federal grant to two transportation organizations--Rural America and the National Association for Transportation Alternatives. Other Iowa communities that would serve as hubs included Des Moines, Davenport, Waterloo, Cedar Rapids, Ames and Carroll. (4)

Federal officials announced in August, 1988 more than $2 million in grants to rural transit programs across Iowa. Grants from the Urban Mass Transit Authority included $1.6 million for twenty-four systems providing rural transportation and $532,000 for purchasing vehicles and equipment for elderly and handicapped transportation systems. The Delaware, Dubuque and Jackson RTA received $16,797 and the ECIA grant amounted to $12,300. The RTA grant was planned for repairs of a bus in Maquoketa, training materials for drivers and the installation of padding on wheelchair lifts for the fleet's eleven buses. The ECIA grant was to finance planning and technical assistance for the RTA transit development program. (5)

Dubuque County was named an Innovation Zone in 1997 after the need for a better community transportation system was identified. A lack of balance was evident when Keyline's ridership has fallen from 688,597 in 1987 to 265,262 in 1997, a decrease of 61%. The annual ridership of the RTA had increased 89% up from 129,823 in 1987 to 245,699 in 1997. (6)

In 1998 the policy committee of the Dubuque Metropolitan Area Transportation study voted to give the city of Dubuque $30,000 in federal planning money to hire a consultant to design an improved transportation. This would be created by merging KEYLNE with the RTA or established a central dispatch to oversee the two providers. Another $30,000 would be provided by the Iowa Department of Transportation. (7)

A decline in ridership by 1999 led to plans to publicize the service. Among the ideas suggested was coordinating with local medical facilities to schedule regular appointments for elderly patients for several people at once. Another idea was to advertise at local factories so that people would realize they did not have to take time off to transport a parent to the doctor. (8)

The East Central Governmental Agency (ECIA) assumed the management of the Delaware, Dubuque and Jackson County RTA in 2005 at the request of Project Concern and RTA boards of directors.

Officials of ECIA and the RTA announced in December, 2007 their plans for a joint ECIA office building and RTA operations facility. Currently the ECIA leased 9,900 square feet in Dubuque. The new facility having 14,000 square feet and 16,000 square feet of vehicle storage was to be constructed in the Westbrook subdivision off Seippel Road on Commerce Park Drive. The total cost was estimated at $2.2 million with $702,000 coming from a grant from a state Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund and $1.4 million in tax-exempt bond funding from the Iowa Finance Authority. (9)

In 2007 transportation between the Northeast Iowa Community College's downtown center and its Peosta campus was implemented. Funding was provided with a grant from the Iowa Clean Air Attainment Program, but the agency ran out of those funds at the end of 2008. The service cost an estimated $60,000 annually to operate, but generated only about $8,000 annually in fares. In July, 2009, Mark Munson, the RTA director, announced a potential yet unnamed source had come forward so that cutting the hourly service to three runs per day could be avoided. (10)

Effective July 1, 2010 the East Central Intergovernmental Association took over the management of KEYLINE and the ECIA's RTA services where possible. ECIA officials found many opportunities for Keyline and the RTA to work together. One of providing service to workers in the new industrial center off Chavenelle Road. ECIA planned to hire a Keyline director and an operations supervisor who would devote 70% of their hours to Keyline and 30% to RTA. (11)

Despite its tax generated resources, fundraising efforts included in 2011 the third annual Black Tie Bowling event at Cherry Lanes at the Diamond Jo Casino. (12) A shortage of state funding that year also led to the publication of a cookbook "Recipes From the Region--From Our Tables to Yours" featuring recipes from bus drivers, staff, city clerks and mayors from the RTA region. The Asbury Eagles Club hosted "Burger Night for RTA." The COMMUNITY FOUNDATION OF GREATER DUBUQUE awarded RTA a total of $1,066 to distribute over 2,000 transportation resource guides to increase ridership. In 2017 the RTA was a United Way organization.

Officials of the Federal Transit Administration announced in July, 2011 that the RTA had been awarded the Excellence in Public Transit Service Award. The award recognized the increased ridership by 9.83 percent and the reduction of costs per ride by 12.84 percent from fiscal year 2009 to fiscal year 2010. (13)

The RTA was considered when the Dubuque city council proposed the construction of an intermodal facility in the Historic Millwork District. On October 13, 2011 city officials announced that Dubuque would receive an $8 million Federal Transit Administration grant for the construction of a facility to incorporate passenger rail, a transfer hub for The Jule, Burlington Trailways and Lamers bus lines, RTA, taxi service, and a hike/bike trail point and hotel shuttles. (14)

RTA officials in July 2018 announced more public transportation options from Dubuque to Peosta. Currently one bus route was provided daily leaving Dubuque at 8:30 a.m. and returning at 3:30 p.m. Beginning August 6th, a new pilot program would add five more bus routes throughout the day with an early morning route that would pick up at home riders unable to transport themselves to the transfer site. The need for the increase came from Dubuque residents attending school at the Northeast Iowa Community College or working at one of Peosta's manufacturing companies. The trip fare was $6.75 with the option of purchasing a monthly pass for $45. (15)



1. "Ames Man RTA Head," Telegraph Herald, May 19, 1982, p. 4

2. Breyfogle, Bill, "Elderly Ride Service Underway," Telegraph Herald, October 27, 1983, p. 6

3. "DOT Eyes Public Transit for Students," Telegraph Herald, January 8, 1986, p. 1

4. Kirchen, Rich. "Greyhound Expanding 'Rural Connection,'" Telegraph Herald, July 17, 1988, p. 6

5. "Officials Announce Rural Transit Grants," Telegraph Herald, August 25, 1988, p. 7

6. Wilkinson, Jennifer, "Better System Miles Closer for Dubuque," Telegraph Herald, November 18, 1998, p. 2

7. Ibid.

8. Carlisle, Nathan. "Transit Agency Seeks to Make Itself Known," Telegraph Herald, June 5, 1999, p. 3

9. "Portzen to Lead $2.2 Million Project," Telegraph Herald, December 17, 2007, p. 3

10. "Group Hits the Road With Cookbook Fundraiser," Telegraph Herald, June 8, 2011, p. 19

11. Piper, Andy. "City Turns to ECIA in Awarding Bus Pact," Telegraph Herald, May 4, 2010, p. 3

12. "Bowling Event to Benefit Regional Transit Authority," Telegraph Herald, February 21, 2011, p. 3

13. "Area Transit Service Earns Award at Iowa Conference," Telegraph Herald, July 5, 2011, p. 3

14. "Intermodal Facility Grant Comes In: $8 Million," Telegraph Herald, October 13, 2011, p. 1

15. Kruse, John, "RTA to Offer More Routes from Dubuque to Peosta," Telegraph Herald, July 30, 2018, p. 3A